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Pennsylvania county clerk to appeal ruling blocking gay marriage

By Daniel Kelley

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - The Pennsylvania court clerk ordered by a judge last week to stop issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples said on Tuesday he plans to appeal the ruling.

Montgomery County Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes made his decision to appeal less than a week after Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court President Judge Dan Pellegrini ruled the county clerk did not have the authority to decide that the state's gay marriage ban was unconstitutional.

The appeal will be filed in the next several days, according to Montgomery County Solicitor Ray McGarry.

The state's health department sued Hanes in August after he began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. His decision followed the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling that the federal government must recognize same-sex unions in states where they are legal.

The state's general counsel expressed confidence the ruling blocking Hanes from issuing gay marriage licenses would be upheld.

"The law is clear, as was the court's ruling in this case: Local officials do not have the power or authority to disregard state laws based on their own personal legal opinions," said Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, a spokesman for Pennsylvania General Counsel James Schultz.

At the time of the order, Hanes had issued 174 licenses. While not all of those have led to marriage, lawyers for some of the couples that have wed noted Pellegrini's order did not address the validity of their nuptials, leaving the door open to another court challenge.

Advocates for same-sex marriage are also mounting a challenge to the state's gay marriage ban in federal court. In July, Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane announced that she would not defend the state's ban on gay marriage.

Thirteen U.S. states and the District of Columbia recognize gay marriage. Pennsylvania is among six potential states targeted by gay marriage advocates for a push to legalize same-sex nuptials in 2015 and 2016, according to the Freedom to Marry advocacy group.

Hawaii's governor has called for a special legislative session in October to take up a bill to legalize gay marriage in the island state.

(Editing by Scott Malone and Andre Grenon)

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